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Holy Habits

The Bible Reading Fellowship supports and resources the Holy Habits initiative, including the provision of this website

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What was your inspiration for Holy Habits?

The inspiration for Holy Habits is Luke’s cameo portrait of the early church in Acts 2:42-47 and in particular a quote about that from the commentator C.K. Barrett, who said that Luke deliberately wrote that passage in order that we might imitate it.

Why discipleship?

Discipleship is very much at the forefront of the thinking of all the major Christian denominations at the moment and is arguably the most important thing for us to resource and engage with, because if our discipleship is not healthy, everything else will struggle as well.

What is your ultimate aim?

Our ultimate aim through the Holy Habits resources is to make new disciples of Jesus and also to deepen the discipleship of those who are already following him.

How do these resources work in practice?

The resources look at all the ten habits or practices that we see in Acts 2. Each habit booklet has a great range of resources: ideas for worship, for small groups, for all ages (which is an important part of these resources), for community engagement, books to read, films and so on, from which churches and groups can draw to both explore the habits and then, more importantly, live them out in practice.

What are a few key characteristics of these resources?

The booklets contain resources for gathered worship. One of the things we’re keen to encourage is that, whenever a new habit is introduced to be explored, it is done in an act of gathered worship, where, in most churches, that’s where most people gather. There are then materials for small groups, Bible materials, study materials and other things that allow people to explore them in more depth. There are resources to help people understand the habit and also to go further with it, because this isn’t just about a one-off exploration; it’s about developing a way of life. So within the resources there are materials to help people sustain this in all contexts and over a lifetime of following Jesus.

How long does the process take?

The pace needs to be set locally, but our initial pilots of the materials have suggested that a two-year journey through them is probably most helpful, i.e. beginning with a good launch event and exploring five habits over the first year and another five habits in the second year.

How is Holy Habits different from other resources?

I think it gives people permission to be creative, to be imaginative, to be contextual. We do offer guidance on how people can form a Holy Habits journey or programme, but we really want it to be permissive, engaging and for people to do this in the way that’s most appropriate for their own context.Compared to some other resources that are perhaps a little more cerebral, a bit more about knowledge, this is very much about experience; this about living out the way of life that Luke describes in the local context.

This isn’t a rigid set of resources. It’s not proscriptive. Why?

Yes, we were quite deliberate in trying to avoid making things over-prescriptive because, as Rowan Williams once said, ‘What gets done, get done locally.’ So the order of the habits, the pace at which they’re explored, the way in which they’re explored can and will all vary locally. As I say in the Introductory Guide to the resources, we do offer guidance on how people can form a programme, but we also give them a lot of encouragement to be creative and imaginative in their own situation.

Why should church leaders go with Holy Habits?

If C.K. Barrett is right in saying that Luke's picture in Act 2 is something that we should imitate, I think that’s the strongest encouragement to go and have a look at this. If this is Luke’s blueprint for being missional disciples, of being church, then it’s perhaps not surprising that people are finding it encouraging, helpful and fruitful. James Dunn, another noted professor of theology, says that whenever we see the church being renewed by the Spirit, we see the Acts 2 picture re-emerging. So I’d encourage anybody who wants to see some ‘enthusiastic spiritual renewal’, as Dunn calls it, to go and have a look at Holy Habits, because we haven't invented anything new here. All we’ve done is study the text, open it up and offer people a way of engaging with it and exploring it that has been fruitful over the centuries, ever since Luke first wrote it.

What’s different about Holy Habits?

Holy Habits is different because it offers a range of resources. Over 200 people have contributed to it – from professors of theology to really quite young children, ordained people, lay people and those from all different Christian traditions – so there’s a great variety of material within the resources. And then there’s the accompanying encouragement: to form a programme or a journey locally, using the guidance we offer, but for people to make it their own. 

I’m a church leader and interested. Where do I start?

I think the most important place to start if you’re considering doing Holy Habits is to be sure that you and your church see this as being integral to who you are, what you’re called to be and do, and to your appropriate strategies. That was a big piece of learning from the development of the resources initially in the Birmingham Methodist Circuit. This wasn’t an esoteric extra; this was absolutely central to what they felt called to be and to do. And I think that links in with the opening phrase in Acts 2:42-44: ‘They devoted themselves to…’ If this is seen as just as a piece of fun, it will be fun, but it might not be particularly fruitful. If it’s at the heart of what you’re being called to be and do, then I think all things are possible.

How do you bring people on board who might be a bit sceptical?

I would encourage people to reflect on the analysis of the text: so, the quotes from people like Barrett and Dunn who argue that this is fundamental to enthusiastic spiritual renewal – because actually, who wouldn’t be up for a bit of enthusiastic spiritual renewal? Explain to people that this has been fruitful both in the life of the early church and through the centuries and today – I think will encourage people to take the plunge and get involved.

When it comes to the individual habits, what is it that people need to ‘get’?

It’s important that people take some time to reflect on each habit's biblical background, on how it can be applied to the whole of life. One of the important things about the habits is that they’re not just about what happens when we gather for an hour on a Sunday morning or a Thursday evening, or whenever it is. These are habits to be lived in the whole of life. Encouraging people to apply their discipleship every day is a really important part of making this work well.

In terms of the practicalities, what are some of the important things to consider?

Our experience so far suggests that it’s important to form some teams, such as a small team to encourage and resource each habit. It’s important to take good time to plan and prepare for this. In the various pilots we’ve done, they’ve allowed themselves at least six months of preparation time – thinking how this integrates with other things you’re doing in the life of your church, so it doesn’t become an encumbrance but actually fits well with other things you’re doing seasonally or for other reasons as well. Good planning, good preparation and plenty of prayer.

How have the pilot groups coped with the budgeting?

Think of that Lukan phrase, ‘they devoted themselves to’. The early pilots were notable for being to invest significantly in this in terms of budget, in terms of people’s time, volunteer time, staff time and so on. So actually doing this well is important. Don’t rush it. Take your time to do this well.

While the ethos is very much not proscriptive or rigid, have you discovered that there’s an importance to following the pattern?

The pilots have shown that it’s important to plan well, to develop a good rhythm of exploring the habit. A two-year journey is probably the right period of time to spend on this. But, critically, the pilots also recognised that after the end of that initial two-year journey, that wasn’t ‘job done’. If this is a way of life, these habits that have been explored need to be inculcated and continue to live thereafter.

What do you have to have in place before you launch the first Holy Habit?

Before you launch your Holy Habits programme, it is important to prepare well. You might want to do some reading around discipleship because you need to be clear just what you’re seeking to form. The first Holy Habits book could be helpful, and there are a range of other good books. Make sure you have the commitment of everybody who is involved. Plan a good launch event. Wherever this has gone well, they’ve begun with a big, large, enthusiastic event to give it energy. And then have your Holy Habits teams in place – maybe just six to eight people in each. Make sure there’s a variety of people – younger people, older people – with different giftings – who can accompany and help people as they explore the habits. If they get a bit stuck for ideas for what they might do, those people will be available to help them.

Do you have to tackle the habits in the order in which they appear in the resources pack?

No. Deciding on the first habit is obviously very important. In all the pilots, interestingly, they chose to start with Eating Together, because they saw that as a great way of bringing people together. Having said that, you don’t have to start there. Other patterns will be perfectly valid. Some people think it might be helpful to follow through the habits in which Luke presents them, in which case you would begin with Biblical Teaching, but a lot will depend upon local circumstances, on what time of the year you begin and on how the habits fit naturally with particular seasons and times of the year, particular celebrations. So, for example, a number of the pilots opted to look at Gladness and Generosity over the Christmas season. Other places have considered Prayer during the Lenten season because there’s an obvious synergy, and again that’s important because it prevents Holy Habits becoming burdensome, because it can sit very naturally and well alongside other priorities and needs.

What kind of things have people done for their launch events?

All of the launches so far have begun with a large gathering in a large space, interestingly most of them in public spaces. So Birmingham began at the International Conference Centre in Birmingham; in Bristol they hired a room in a city centre hotel; in Dudley they used the local college; in Romsey, which is just one church doing it, they actually did it in the local church. They modelled all the habits, not just the first one they were looking at, so they ate together; there was worship; in one or two cases they broke bread together; there was prayer; and there was a rich sense fellowship. 

After the first event, where next?

Then you can begin to explore the habits in your Sunday worship or other main worship event, in small groups, in youth groups and so on. Encourage people to read and reflect at home using the reading suggestions in the material, and just to observe and practise these habits in every aspect of life. So eating together, for example, is not just about a supper or a meal at church; it’s how I eat my food together with colleagues at work, or with my lonely neighbour, or with the people who live rough on the streets. All of these habits can be applied and experienced in every aspect of life.

How do you ensure that all the different generations are included?

The Holy Habits are for all generations, from the youngest child up to the oldest person, so it’s important to make sure that all people are included. Leaders of groups need to be involved. Pastoral visitors need to think when they’re visiting older people, or perhaps those with dementia, folk who are housebound, how can they engage in this as well, because this is basically about a godly way of being human. Take the time to reflect on how it can be applied in different contexts.

How do you maintain the physical momentum when people are tired and busy and overstretched?

People do get tired and I think we’re helped in exploring habits by a phrase that Luke uses twice in Acts 2:42-7: ‘day by day’. The first followers of Jesus lived this way of life day by day. Finding a pace, finding a pattern to follow, thinking how can I live this simply today, not worrying too much about tomorrow – but living day by day. I think if we use that rhythmic approach to discipleship, that can be really, really helpful.

How do you sustain the spiritual devotion that’s required?

There are particular suggestions in the core booklets about how people and groups of people can go further or deeper with the habit, because this isn’t about exploring the habit for two months and then just forgetting about them. The booklets contain materials and resources to help people think about how they can sustain this over a lifetime and how they can go further and deeper in their thinking about this and their living of it.

These resources are described as ‘integrated, intertwined and cumulative’. What do you mean by that?

In real life, the habits all get muddled up – they are intertwined and integrated. In offering the Holy Habits resources, we’ve clearly looked at them one at a time, but in real life they all get experienced – several of them at least – at a time. When you meet to eat together, very often you will pray as part of that gathering. You will experience fellowship; you may break bread as part of that activity. So all of the habits are interrelated: eating together can be an act of service when we offer our food to other people as well. So we look at them individually but we live them collectively, and within each of the habit booklets there are diagrams and other things to help people think about how they all relate to each another.

How do you introduce a new habit?

Each time a new habit is introduced, we suggest you do this through a gathered act of worship, recognising that in most churches that’s where most people gather. Again, we’d encourage people to do reading around that, so you could do an article on your church website or put an article in your church magazine. You could invite people to present pieces of artwork to represent the habit – there are a multitude of ways to introduce this to people.

What changes would you hope to see in a church that had devoted itself to Holy Habits for two years?

We would hope to see a renewal of the culture of that church as one of discipleship formation. That was the big aim and hope when we first developed these resources. They devoted themselves to that with the aim and the aspiration and the hope that it would transform the culture of that group of churches and the individual churches that constituted that. So that is our big hope that it will help people to engage with this model of church that Luke offers in Acts 2. And of course that passage in Acts ends with the wonderful phrase ‘and day-by-day the Lord added to their number’. Is it any wonder that that happened, given the way of life that those believers shared? Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community that was noted for gladness and generosity? Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community that gave to anybody who was in need? Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community that had vibrant worship and deep prayer? So our hope is that we will see the culture of the church renewed and day by day we will see new people being added too.

Do you have one last message for people about to set out on that journey?

One last message I would say is enjoy this! If this is about a godly, Spirit-filled way of living, if this is a way we might see ‘enthusiastic spiritual renewal’, then enjoy it. I love the fact that the word ‘enthusiastic’ – our English word – comes from two Greek words: en Theos, ‘in God’. So let God be at the heart of all this, let this be centred on Jesus, let this be Spirit-filled. See where the adventure takes you.